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Cloud The Internet

Amazon's New Silk Redefines Browser Tech 249

Posted by samzenpus
from the look-differently dept.
angry tapir writes "While the Kindle Fire tablet consumed much of the focus at Amazon's launch event Wednesday in New York, the company also showed off a bit of potentially radical software technology as well, the new browser for the Fire, called Silk. Silk is different from other browsers because it can be configured to let Amazon's cloud service do much of the work assembling complex Web pages. The result is that users may experience much faster load times for Web pages, compared to other mobile devices, according to the company."
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Amazon's New Silk Redefines Browser Tech

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  • No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @09:17PM (#37548772)

    Opera was doing this YEARS ago. As usual.

    Frist?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      They aren't even the only ones, Skyfire on android/winmo does this as well.
      • Also, hasn't this been the way pretty much every single feature phone from cellular carriers with a "web browser" worked this way since that capability came out?
    • And I mean the Infogear iPhone [wikipedia.org] from last century.
    • Opera Mini isn't the only one.

      One of the PalmOS browsers worked this way, doing pre-rendering at the other end to help compensate for a slow connection and a small device. If the ISP's server farm went down, so did your web browser.

      I've used a satellite Internet provider that did similar as well, parsing the HTML at the provider ground station so it could fetch all the needed objects and send them in a single stream to the sky. This eliminated a lot of repeated fetch requests from the client over sat, whi

    • by treerex (743007)
      I was working on a project at Spyglass in the late '90s that did this... it isn't a new idea. It just got pushed to the background when devices started getting more powerful and bandwidth increased.
  • by sprior (249994) on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @09:18PM (#37548782) Homepage

    Nice performance bump for users, and an incredible data mining opportunity for Amazon - who wins more?

    • They Both Win (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Gr33nJ3ll0 (1367543)
      It's not always lose-win or lose-lose.
      • by sprior (249994)

        Reading comprehension is a blessed thing - my comment wasn't who loses, but who wins more.

        • That depends, is Charle Sheen a user?
        • Who wins more implies there's a higher winner, and thus a loser, who is getting the worst of the deal.
          • by slim (1652)

            No it doesn't.

            I pay you $5 for a painting. Then I sell it for $10 (to a buyer who wouldn't have bought directly from you).

            We've both gained $5, we've both got some costs to take out of that. Neither of us loses.

      • It's not always lose-win or lose-lose.

        These days, it's pretty much a total loss for privacy.

        • by Tharsman (1364603)

          From the summary:

          Silk is different from other browsers because it can be configured to let Amazon's

          It can be configured. Or it can be ignored. As long as it's an Opt-In feature, and not an Opt-out one, the right to privacy is preserved.

          Real problem comes when they make these things "Opt Out", specially if the opt-out settings are as out of the way (and often buggy) as Facebook's.

      • by Jonner (189691)

        It's not always lose-win or lose-lose.

        Perhaps you missed the last word "more."

      • by DrXym (126579)
        Well it is lose-win if you don't actually want Amazon knowing your business. If it's optional then fine, if it's always on or kicks in when it feels like it or is even on by default then that sucks.
    • Ding Ding Ding, we have a winner! And how much do you want to bet that there's a certain three letter government agency just licking their chops to get access to this data?
      • A certain three-letter government agency? I suspect that several such agencies would like a peek.

        • When people fear their government more than the government fears its people, it is a sad day.

        • by afidel (530433)
          Dude we know for a fact that all the Tier-1 traffic in the US already gets repeated to the NSA, why would they need a peek? Now the FBI might want a look, but for them to be able to do anything with it they need a warrant (even if it is a expost facto FISA warrant).
      • by SomePgmr (2021234)
        I doubt it. The opportunity to sift through a trillion porn and lolcats visits a day probably isn't as interesting or inclusive as the access they already have, legally and otherwise.
        • sift through a trillion porn

          Maybe they want to use amazon as a human filter? You know, to get to the good stuff faster!

      • by Lusa (153265)

        I'm somewhat confused. Why would they care? You're talking about a small percentage of web browser usage compared with all other browsers and platforms. Not only that but this is just a small percentage of the network traffic. What about instant messages, bittorrent and other formats of communication some of which will be completely bespoke?

        No, I call bullshit. Some conspiracy theorists will happily sling around that an agency has their claws on the data but when you realise it is such a small percentage of

    • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @10:03PM (#37549166)
      You could just as well argue it increases privacy, since Amazon becomes a proxy service. So instead of your 1-page request hitting 10 companies' servers, each of which collects information on you, now they see a bunch of hits from Amazon.

      Of course, google probably aggregates information from those ten servers anyway, and Amazon probably sells the information they collect on you anyway, and the government is probably monitoring everybody involved in any case...

      • by Dahamma (304068)

        Except they also said they were going to proxy your HTTPS traffic by making a connection from their "cloud" to the destination server for you. In some parts they call that a "man in the middle"...

        • by timeOday (582209)
          HTTPS can be proxied without being decrypted by the proxy, are you sure they aren't doing that? Or are you just joking? *Nobody* would want amazon snooping on their online banking etc.
          • by Dahamma (304068)

            From Amazon's own FAQ on Silk:

            What about handling secure (https) connections?
            We will establish a secure connection from the cloud to the site owner on your behalf for page requests of sites using SSL (e.g. https://siteaddress.com./ [siteaddress.com.]

            Still a bit vague, but not the part about "from the cloud to the site owner on your behalf". But in this case nothing can be assumed - it's their browser, so they can implement the client to cloud connection however they want. Let's just hope they do it securely (even if, unlik

            • by joost (87285)

              They are using SPDY [chromium.org] for the client to cloud connection, which is not only very fast but also https by design, you cannot have SPDY over plain http.

    • Nice performance bump for users, and an incredible data mining opportunity for Amazon - who wins more?

      Is it really a performance bump, though? I mean, when have you ever felt the load time for a page accessed through broadband was too slow?

      If the Kindle Fire was running on a 33MHz Dragonball and accessing the net through a 14.4kbps modem, I could understand the need for this. But with a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and high-speed broadband, why do we need this? I'm still slightly confused at Amazon using this as a selling point ... (or perhaps it's a case of needing a selling point other than price, and dr

      • If it gives as much of a boost as Opera mini then it will be well worth it. One of the biggest performance increases comes from javascript being run on their servers before they send the page to your device. They give any onLoad events 2 seconds to fire and then cancel them so you don't get pages hung up waiting for flaky javascript that has hung for some reason or another. Any on page javascript is also processed on the server which massively reduces the load on the device itself.

        It does lead to slightly w

    • Users of noscript have long benefitted from fast loading of web pages as distracting ads pulled from other domains were suppressed.

      If entire web pages are "constructed in the cloud" and then presented to users, the additional overhead of ads,
      including annoying animation, would once again turn perfectly readable pages into aggravating distractions that
      eventually drive readers away. Anyone remember answer.com? AskJeeves? Or cnn.com before noscript?

      Bah humbug to this "improvement" in technology.

      • Anyone remember answer.com? AskJeeves?

        No I doubt most people do. Google.com loads up nice and quick though.

        Even on pages that do pull in a lot of ads using javascript if this works anything like Opera Mini they won't be a problem. Opera Mini gives any javascript 2 seconds and then bins it which means an ad server that is slow to respond won't slow the page load down. All the javascript is run in the cloud and only a flat page is pushed out to the device so there isn't any overhead for javascript.

      • I grew up attached to a computer. I have ad blocking in my wetware. I simply don't even notice web advertisements anymore, unless they have sound.

        I did recently start using adblock, but that was because I started noticing increased load times and companies tracking me with social media buttons. My visual cortex started filtering out banner ads years ago.

  • Opera Mini (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @09:24PM (#37548834)

    When you request a page in Opera Mini, the request is sent to the Opera Mini server that then downloads the page from the Internet. The server then packages your page up in a neat little compressed format (we call it OBML), ready to send back to your phone at the speed of ninjas on jetpacks.

  • by Necroman (61604) on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @09:29PM (#37548888)

    Opera released Opera Turbo [wikipedia.org] back in 2009 which does this same thing. As well, Opera Mini [wikipedia.org], their mobile browser, does this as well.

    So this isn't really re-defining the browser, it's just bringing the technology more mainstream.

    • by Excelsior (164338)

      And the TMobile Sidekick by Danger (now Microsoft) did it many years before Opera. Nothing to see here. Move along.

    • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @10:59PM (#37549496) Journal

      You're absolutely correct that the basic "innovation" here is exactly what Opera Mini (note, not Turbo - specifically Mini) has done for ages. So all talk about "redefining the browser tech" is pure marketspeak, and both the submitter and the editor should be ashamed of spinning it the way Amazon PR wanted them to.

      However, there is one crucial difference with Mini here: it also does work as a full-fledged local browser. Mini always does layout and other optimizations "in the cloud", and fetches the result. That's why it's so bad at JS, Flash, HTML5 etc - if it's something that has to run locally, it's not supported. Here, they are transparently offloading work on the server, but when there is something in the page that cannot be handled well that way - or when the server is not available - it gets rendered locally, same as in any other browser. So it's supposed to be completely transparent to the user, unlike Opera.

      Of course, we haven't actually seen how well that it all works in practice, and I'll reserve my judgement until then. It'll be interesting to sniff traffic and see how much actually gets preprocessed; right now my suspicion is that on any script-heavy website, it'll mostly just do compression.

      • Actually it is not only opera turbo, they were the first, but google also has this kind of offloading facility, early versions of the android browser used it.

    • Lets face it, us few Opera users are used to living a couple of years in the future.

      Mind you until 27 Septembet 2012 I sometimes got upset but since the new law enacted two days ago put to death all IE/Chrome and Firefox users (Lynx users already got their punishment through usage) I am a lot more mellow about it.

  • From TFA "The result is that users may experience much faster load times for Web pages, compared to other mobile devices, according to the company."

    And to paraphrase the immortal words of Mandy Rice Davies - they would say that, wouldn't they.

  • Opera? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by nine-times (778537)
    Didn't Opera do something similar, where they rendered the web pages on their own server and then passed it to their mobile browsers in an optimized form?
  • We heard you like the cloud, so we put the cloud in your cloud so you can swear while you disconnect!

    • by Jonner (189691)

      We heard you like the cloud, so we put the cloud in your cloud so you can swear while you disconnect!

      The next version of silk won't need a client at all. The cloud will be able to take the place of the user's device as well. Sure, you might end up spending thousands of dollars on items from Amazon you wouldn't have ordered, but think of the time savings!

  • by SirDrinksAlot (226001) on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @09:52PM (#37549064) Journal

    This is ridiculously old technology. Just about every other mobile browser does this now other than maybe IE on Windows phones and Safari on IOS. BlackBerry's have been doing this since 2005, as someone else mentioned Opera has had it since 2009, Bolt Browser has this feature as well. So I am to believe that a browser technology that's been around for 6 years is redefining browsers now? Way to grab on to an old feature and herald it as something new and ground breaking.

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      This is ridiculously old technology...BlackBerry's have been doing this since 2005...

      Uh, wow. Maybe I'll hold off altogether on this "new" tech then. Seems in the battle of browser wars to find the fastest, easiest, and most efficient one out there, I don't ever hear someone exclaim "Oooh, you should go get a Blackberry!"...

  • by Kupo (573763) on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @10:05PM (#37549184)
    Cross posting from my old comment [slashdot.org]. As per their help [amazon.com]:

    What about handling secure (https) connections?
    We will establish a secure connection from the cloud to the site owner on your behalf for page requests of sites using SSL (e.g. https://siteaddress.com/ [siteaddress.com] ).

    So essentially, they become the man-in-the-middle so they can better cache your HTTPS content? And their browser is programmed to show this is acceptable/secure... What kind of privacy implications does this introduce? Even if their privacy policy says they won't use the data maliciously, cloud computing isn't a bullet-proof system (i.e., leaks, hacking incidents, etc.). Call me paranoid, but if I read this right, this sounds like a frightening idea.

    • by nullchar (446050)

      Agreed. Proxies (like the Silk browser uses, even if fancy like Opera's OBML) *shouly* only proxy/format plain HTTP data. Any HTTPS connections *must* go direct from device to server: end-to-end.

      I hope the browser displays a warning every time if it truly proxies HTTPS content! (And iconally shows the 'broken padlock' or jolly rodger.)

    • ...not a complete caching of HTTPS content (which would be pretty futile). There would only be an issue if, say, the CA system of validating what server you are talking to has got a leak, because then Amazon(/any attacker controlling (part) of the EC2 server park) could theoretically perform a real MITM (barring any legal consequences, of course). But hey, the CA system is perfect... erm... never mind...
    • by Jonner (189691)

      Call me paranoid, but if I read this right, this sounds like a frightening idea.

      That's an entirely appropriate level of paranoia. What they're describing in their own help is exactly a MITM attack and extremely irresponsible. If the browser portrays that as "secure" it's fraud.

    • Cross posting from my old comment [slashdot.org]. As per their help [amazon.com]:

      What about handling secure (https) connections? We will establish a secure connection from the cloud to the site owner on your behalf for page requests of sites using SSL (e.g. https://siteaddress.com/ [siteaddress.com] ).

      So essentially, they become the man-in-the-middle so they can better cache your HTTPS content? And their browser is programmed to show this is acceptable/secure... What kind of privacy implications does this introduce? Even if their privacy policy says they won't use the data maliciously, cloud computing isn't a bullet-proof system (i.e., leaks, hacking incidents, etc.). Call me paranoid, but if I read this right, this sounds like a frightening idea.

      Iif they put themselves as a man in the middle that sees your banking account credentials, credit card numbers, etc, all their servers that are involved in this should be subject to the kind of security standards and regulations that are required of sites that handle credit card numbers...

    • by kiwix (1810960)
      On the other hand, as soon as you use proprietary software, the software vendor is effectively a man-in-the-middle... They just do it in a more visible way.
    • If this is only at the TCP level, essentially forwarding all encrypted traffic unaltered, then there is no issue.

      But looking at the content is very serious. If the browser shows that it sends the data encrypted to example.com, but in fact it sends them in cleartext to proxy.amazon.com, it's a ridiculous security hole. I doubt they are doing this.

    • by Apocros (6119)
      Not necessarily... see RFC 2817 [ietf.org].
  • by SexyKellyOsbourne (606860) on Wednesday September 28, 2011 @10:41PM (#37549400) Journal

    Basically, what this service does is make a "google maps" version of the webpage -- cutting pages up into tiles (like the Nintendo NES did) and streaming them over a wireless connection from their reserved-for-holidays EC2 data centers. Some localized bastardization is involved, but the "google maps" img tiling is the basis of it.

    A quick wget of the cnn.com front page yields 2.10 MB of data. And yes, it's less to tile it -- a screenshot at 1400x900, for about 40% of the page, converts into a lossless PNG file for about 700K of data. A lossy but usable 90-quality JPEG is around 350K. The processing time and RAM to bit blit that client-side of course will be a lot less than a modern ACID 2/3 browser would require.

    But as sites become more dynamic, the response time to constantly stream pixels won't be worth it. And a lot of sites rely on being dynamic -- view the HTML source on Facebook some time, it's almost all JS. Even slashdot (famous for being HTML3 well into the 2000's) now feeds its stories dynamically with javascript and HTML5.

    This isn't "redefining browser tech," it's probably a stopgap measure for their current market-undercutting $199 tablet processor. Anything JS/HTML5 runs fine on my dated Athlon X2 laptop on Chromium or Iceweasel, and that kind of speed will easily be in tablets in 1-2 years. Amazon says Fire is "dual core" but it's probably skimpy CPU-wise and/or RAM-wise. Or maybe their attempt to reinvent the wheel by rolling their own browser engine under NIH syndrome instead of using Webkit or Gecko just turned out badly.

  • I love it when stuff redefines other stuff! So exciting.
  • Since when is WebKit and some code from Chromium the revolutionary part and WebKit the mundane part?
  • The main motivation for this technology is probably the ability to inject or replace ads in any webpage...
  • I'm probably dating myself to all the kids on Slashdot, but when did web pages get so complex that work now needs to be split?

    I still write all my HTML by hand, optimize my images, specify the actual size of the image in the IMG tag, yadda yadda.

    I *never* understood the purpose of CSS, except that it mucked things up. I was very happy with black text against grey (woot Mosaic). Heck, my favorite browser was Omniweb for NeXT.

    When exactly did things get so bad that web browsers are at their limit and these ta

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